Scientists map human-wildlife conflict based on elephant study

Researchers have claimed to have established a "reliable" approach to predict the likely occurrence of human-wildlife conflict which will help conservation scientists to pre-emptively mitigate them and foster co-existence between people and animals.

New Delhi: Researchers have claimed to have established a "reliable" approach to predict the likely occurrence of human-wildlife conflict which will help conservation scientists to pre-emptively mitigate them and foster co-existence between people and animals.

The research led by a Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in collaboration with Samrakshan Trust, US Geological Survey and University of Florida claimed to have analysed conflict incidences over time and revealed mechanisms that influence patterns in crop raids by elephants.

The researchers said the study has "important implications" in India, where over 400 people and 100 elephants are reportedly killed in conflicts annually.

"Mitigating human-wildlife conflict is of crucial concern for both wildlife conservation and human well-being and a reliable understanding of why such conflicts occur holds the key for effective mitigation," lead researcher Varun Goswami, heads of Elephant Program of WCS, India, said.

Using what is termed as "occupancy modelling", the researchers said that they not only "quantified patterns" of crop raiding across the landscape but also isolated reasons for changes in these patterns from one season to another.

"We were able to understand why elephants continue to raid certain places and what causes them to raid new locations.

"In this (Garo Hills) landscape, it was a combination of factors - local cultivation practices, long-term rainfall patterns, density of villages, distance to forests, and terrain - that shaped elephant crop raiding patterns," Goswami said.

WCS said that based on their findings, the researchers created 'predictive maps' of elephant crop depredation across the larger landscape for different crop seasons and gave recommendations for effective conflict mitigation.

"The framework established by this research will help conservation scientists better understand reasons for occurrence of these conflicts.

This human-wildlife conflict study done for the first time can also also be used to assess conflict patterns related to other species like tiger, leopard and other, Godwami said.

"It can be readily used to generate predictive maps of human-wildlife conflicts and pre-emptively mitigate them to foster coexistence of people and wildlife. Additionally, the framework can be used to test if implemented mitigation measures have proven successful in reducing conflicts," the statement said. A WCS statement said that the study is a result of

seven-year long monitoring of human-elephant conflicts in Garo Hills in the North-East and application of cutting-edge methodology to study the reported conflicts.

The researchers studied over 600 instances of crop depredation by elephants across 49 conflict-prone villages.

The landscape in these villages included a mosaic of community-managed forests and four protected areas - Baghmara Reserve Forest, Balphakram National Park, Siju Wildlife Sanctuary and Rewak Reserve Forest - interspersed with agricultural lands.

"We often assume that we are able to accurately record all conflicts that occur. But factors such as difficult terrain and inaccessibility may lead to lower detection or under-reporting of conflicts from certain locations, falsely indicating lower levels of conflict in these areas," said Goswami referring to the incorporation of 'imperfect detection' of conflict into their study.

An outcome of Goswami's doctoral research, the paper titled 'Mechanistic understanding of human-wildlife conflict through a novel application of dynamic occupancy models' was published in the reputed international journal 'Conservation Biology' last week.  

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